Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley

2011-2012 season preview: Minnesota Wild

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2010-2011 record: 39-35-8, 86 points; 3rd in Northwest, 12th in West

Playoffs: Did not qualify

After treading water the past few seasons in uninspiring fashion, the Wild teamed up with the Sharks to drastically change the outlook of their offensive attack this offseason. Could that streamlining paired up with better health to their defense and goaltending put the Wild back in the postseason? Wild fans are excited no matter what.

Offense

Goals were and have been an issue for the Wild since the team’s inception. After finishing in the bottom five in the NHL in goals scored last year, GM Chuck Fletcher changed things up acquiring Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi in separate deals with San Jose. Throw those two on a line with Mikko Koivu and suddenly the Wild have a completely capable top scoring line. With Marek Zidlicky carrying the puck for them with Brent Burns out of town and a second line featuring healthy versions of Guillaume Latendresse and Pierre-Marc Bouchard, coach Mike Yeo is hoping for the goals to come more frequently. Defensively, Cal Clutterbuck gets joined by Darroll Powe to create a heavy hitting set of forwards. Eric Nystrom, Kyle Brodziak, and Brad Staubitz will wreak havoc on opponents with big hits.

Defense

The Wild saying they’re going to fall back on the trap a bit more this season shouldn’t give fans the shakes but comfort in knowing that it’s going to happen with a purpose. The defensemen outside of Zidlicky, Nick Schultz, and Greg Zanon are really green and not just because of the team’s sweaters. Jared Spurgeon, Justin Falk, and Clayton Stoner all have some NHL experience now, but they’ll need to prove they can cut it. Mike Lundin comes over from Tampa Bay looking to prove getting squeezed out of the mix there was a mistake on their part. Things could go well here, but there’s going to be mistakes made. Limiting them is what they hope the trap can help out with.

source: APGoalies

Niklas Backstrom is back again as the man in goal. At 33, time is dwindling down for the Finn to get it done for the Wild and after having some nagging injury problems last season, the Wild are hoping he can rebound with as strong of a season as they know they can bank on from him. Josh Harding returns as his backup goalie after missing all of last season with a knee injury. He was solid two years ago as the backup in spelling Backstrom from doing too much. How he bounces back after a year away will be something the Wild will have to watch closely.

Coaching

Mike Yeo enters into his first head coaching job in the NHL getting to try and turn things around for the Wild. Yeo is Dan Bylsma’s former assistant coach in Pittsburgh and after spending last season coaching the Wild’s farm team in Houston, the Aeros’ success earned Yeo the shot at the top job in Minnesota. Yeo shouldn’t have any job worries this season unless an epic losing streak comes into play. That shouldn’t happen. We think.

source: Getty ImagesBreakout candidate

Are Mikael Granlund and his magical shootout moves here yet? He’s still in Finland? Well shoot. All right, how about defenseman Jared Spurgeon then?He’s small (5-foot-9, 185 pounds) but defense is the one area where a player can step up in a big way here and grab the spotlight. It’s also the position where the Wild really need someone to step up bit and Spurgeon showed glimpses of slick ability last season. If Spurgeon can’t do it then perhaps Marco Scandella can on the blue line as well.  If anyone slumps or struggles, there’ll be chances to make it all better.

Best-case scenario

Heatley, Koivu, and Setoguchi become a revelation in Minnesota becoming one of the top lines in the league and a threat to change a game on any shift. Latendresse and Bouchard remain healthy and productive with Latendresse pushing the 30-goal barrier in the process while either Brodziak or Matt Cullen lead the way up the middle on that line. The defense plays tight and strong limiting mistakes that make Backstrom’s life a lot easier in goal as the Wild fight through the West and an iffy division into a playoff spot at the bottom of the West.

Reality

Reality here is that this is a thin lineup. An injury to any player will expose the weaknesses of the Wild’s system and any injuries to guys on the top two lines will be offense killers. The Wild are going to be a little bit better, the question is will it be enough to get into the postseason? That’s debatable and seems unlikely.

Ex-NHLer Kevin Stevens pleads guilty in drug conspiracy

PITTSBURGH, PA - DECEMBER 31:  Kevin Stevens #25 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates against the Washington Capitals during the 2011 NHL Winter Classic Alumni Game on December 31, 2010 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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BOSTON (AP) A two-time Stanley Cup champion hockey player from Massachusetts has pleaded guilty to a federal drug charge.

The Boston Globe reports (http://bit.ly/2grdpkl ) 51-year-old Kevin Stevens entered the plea Thursday in a Boston federal court to a charge of conspiring with another man to sell oxycodone.

Prosecutors say Stevens and another man were involved in a scheme to sell the painkiller from August 2015 through at least March 2016 in several cities. A plea agreement says Stevens was responsible for 175 pills containing 30 milligrams each of oxycodone.

His attorney says Stevens has battled an addiction to painkillers for many years.

The Pembroke native played 15 seasons in the National Hockey League, winning consecutive Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991 and 1992.

‘I’m going to stick up for myself’: Price has no regrets when it comes to incident with Palmieri

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Seeing Carey Price lose his cool in last night’s game against the Devils was pretty shocking given his calm nature, but the Habs goalie had no regrets after the game was over.

“I got run on the first goal and I wasn’t going to take another one,” Price said, per the Montreal Gazette. “I got fired up, I guess. I’m going to stick up for myself now.

“It seems to be the nature of the league, to go hard to the net, run the goalie and score the goal. You have to stick up for yourself once in a while.”

Price’s actions might seem a little crazy on the surface, but when you consider the amount of times he’s missed games with various knee injuries, you kind of understand his frustration.

Remember  this incident with Rangers forward Chris Kreider? Well, Price also took matters into his own hands with Kreider the next time they faced each other (it was a little more subtle than last night’s episode).

A knee injury also forced him to miss most of last season, and I don’t have to remind you what happened to the Canadiens while he was gone.

As for Palmieri, he saw nothing wrong with what he did.

“I mean, it’s just a hockey play,” Palmieri said after the game.

“I’ve done it probably 50 to 100 times in my career. You got to the net and whether it’s a trip or push, you lose an edge. It’s going to the net and that’s where you score goals.”

In case you didn’t know (Price admitted he didn’t), there is a rule about goalies using their blocker to target an opponent’s head.

Here’s the wording from the NHL rule book:

51.3 Match Penalty – If, in the judgment of the Referee, a goalkeeper uses his blocking glove to punch an opponent in the head or face in an attempt to or to deliberately injure an opponent, a match penalty must be assessed.

51.4 Fines and Suspensions – There are no specified fines or suspensions for roughing, however, supplementary discipline can be applied by the Commissioner at his discretion (refer to Rule 28).

Price being suspended seems highly unlikely, but the league issuing a fine isn’t out of the question.

PHT Morning Skate: Ben Bishop loves chowing down on delicious carbs

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–Lightning goalie Ben Bishop is a creature of habit when it comes to his game day meals. One of the things that’s consistent in his diet is the overload of carbs. Bread, pasta and oatmeal, Bishop eats it all on game day. Here’s a deeper look into his diet. (Sports Illustrated)

–Speaking of carbs, did you know that Alex Ovechkin always dreamed of becoming a pizza delivery boy? Okay, maybe not, but this Papa John’s commercial of him failing miserably at being a delivery guy is still pretty funny. (Top)

–The Edmonton Oilers made a huge move last off-season when they shipped Taylor Hall to New Jersey for Adam Larsson. The Oilers are currently in first place in the Pacific Division, but that doesn’t mean the trade has worked out well for them. (Sportsnet)

–Wayne Gretzky will appear on an episode of the Simpsons on Sunday evening. NHL.com provides us with a look at his appearance. “People argue about a lot of things, but they never argue about who’s the greatest hockey player. It’s always him,” Al Jean, who’s an executive producer on the show. “I don’t think there is anybody better at anything than Gretzky is as a hockey player. He had a lot of great stories, and it was a real pleasure to meet him.” (NHL)

–Oilers sophomore forward Connor McDavid has been fantastic this season, but “The Great One” still doesn’t think he’s the top player in the NHL. “Is Connor a great player? Absolutely. Does Connor have an opportunity to be the next Crosby? Absolutely. Right now, Sidney deserves to be known as the best player in the game,” Gretzky told ESPN.com.

–Yesterday, we told you that Blackhawks emergency goalie Eric Semborski will be getting his own Topps hockey card. Now, Puck Junk gives us the inside story on how the idea for the card came about. “It all came together pretty quickly,” said Mike Salerno, App Producer of Topps Skate. “We saw the situation in Philadelphia unfold over the weekend and thought it would make for a fun and unique card.” (Puck Junk)

Video: Max Domi hurt after big hit, fight with Garnet Hathaway

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Dave Tippett insists that, even though he suffered an upper-body injury, Max Domi has to play with the sort of edge he showed tonight.

But, yeah, that edge left him bleeding this time around.

As you can see from the video above, Domi and Garnet Hathaway engaged in a fierce fight after a hit by Domi. The Arizona Coyotes forward left the game and didn’t return with an upper-body injury, and is now considered day-to-day. The price of doing business?

Domi grabbed an assist during the game, so maybe this will be the sort of thing that helps him get back on track.

Speaking of back on track, the Flames are now on a five-game winning streak while the Coyotes dropped their sixth in a row as Calgary won 2-1 in overtime. Chad Johnson remains brilliant, Mike Smith keeps getting Arizona points (they may or may not actually want in the long run) and, hey, Dougie Hamilton is still a Flame: